Measuring World Social Progress QUALITY-OF-LIFE INDEX

By Laurel Shaper Walters, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, August 16, 1991 | Go to article overview

Measuring World Social Progress QUALITY-OF-LIFE INDEX


Laurel Shaper Walters, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


ECONOMIC wealth doesn't necessarily translate to improved social conditions, according to a recent "world report card on social progress."

"The theory in the past has been that social development follows on the heels of economic development," says Richard Estes, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Work in Philadelphia.

But Professor Estes, who has studied world social progress for 20 years and produced two previous "report cards," points out that some very rich countries lag far behind in social development.

Although the United States has the largest economy in the world, it ranks 18th on Estes's "report card." And despite relatively stable economies, the African nations of Kenya, Senegal, and Zimbabwe have declined dramatically on the social index during the past two decades.

Social development is measured by a nation's ability to meet the needs of citizens through such services as health care and education. Using 46 indicators ranging from the rate of population increase to the percentage of people sharing the same mother tongue, Estes ranks 124 countries around the globe.

Denmark takes the No. 1 position, followed by 12 other European countries. Japan follows as No. 14. Ethiopia takes last place, just behind Mozambique, Angola, and Chad.

"Much of the development worldwide has been focused on increasing the gross national product," says James Billups, a professor of social work at Ohio State University in Columbus. "The infrastructure for human and social development is not given much attention compared to economic and political development."

The report card on social progress is an effort to measure quality of life; only six of the 46 indicators measure economic factors.

Since Estes began collecting data in the 1970s, net social gains have been slim. Although many countries committed themselves to social development in the '70s, that progress was largely eroded during the 1980s, Estes says. "Despite the tens of billions of dollars and (many) hours of technical assistance provided to developing countries, the decade of the '80s was basically a wipeout from a social-development perspective," he says.

Estes characterizes the overall record on global social progress as "dismal." A number of factors contribute to the situation:

Worldwide economic problems. While the economy doesn't dictate the whole picture, Estes says, high rates of inflation and indebtedness can certainly have a devastating effect. …

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